[So, here’s the deal: I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, but, due to the pitiful protestations of the last ragged vestiges of my feeble pride, I never published it. Since then, however, my pride seems to have given up any hope of reclaiming its former glory*, and I have decided to go ahead and put it out before the masses.]
Immediately following our last language evaluation, we booked a helicopter and headed out to attend our mission’s annual conference, so we are currently out of the bush as I write this.
Because we try to make the most of each helicopter flight, we reserved a guesthouse on our mission center and scheduled a family break immediately following the conference. Because the world is a cruel place, however, our family break has ended up more like a “broken family.”
One of the problems of pulling a bunch of missionaries out from their remote jungle villages and cooping them up together in close proximity is that the odds of one of those families being a carrier of some local sickness is pretty high. And the odds of that sickness being passed on to an unsuspecting colleague, who has no resistance to it, are equally high.
And that is how, on the last night of conference (the eve of our family vacation), I was violently assaulted by Conference Bug Alpha (CBA).
If you’ve followed our blog for a while, then you might recall that this is not the first occurrence of an R&R time being hijacked by disease. And, because the tropics dispense diseases like I make unintelligible utterances in the Iski language (that is to say, quite often), it probably won’t be the last. But that doesn’t mean I won’t complain about it anyway.
This particular strain of CBA has been a real doozy too: vomiting, fever, chills, cramps, diarrhea, severe exhaustion…basically everything except bleeding from your eye balls (knock on wood).
I know that sickness is a regular part of the human experience, but I think it’s worth noting that sickness in the tropics is often in a separate league altogether from temperate zone ailments.
Case in point, I lived 30 years in the American Northeast, and I never once encountered a sickness that included the compromised integrity of my sphincter. I didn’t even know that symptom existed until I moved to the tropics. And yet, in my short time here in Papua New Guinea, this is the second time that I have encountered this phenomenon.
There are few things more demoralizing after spending an evening hugging the toilet bowl than to wake up from a fevered sleep to realize that sometime during the night you have, in no subtle way, crapped your pants.
Adding insult to injury, I don’t know who came up with the “rules of empathy” regarding sickness, but I think it’s fair to say that they were a little inconsistent with their sympathy allotments:
- “I just threw up” receives “Oh, you poor fella’. Why don’t you lie down and rest?”
- “I have chills” gets “Let me draw you a warm bath.”
- “I’ve got diarrhea” is met with “Let’s make sure to keep you hydrated.”
And yet, augment all of those symptoms with the simple statement, “I just pooped myself” and all you get is uncontrollable laughter from your spouse and children.
It’s truly a unique experience to have a 4 year old, who pees his pants about every other day, discuss toilet habits with you from a place of moral superiority: “Dad, next time you feel poop coming, you need to use the potty!”
It doesn’t matter if you explain that you were basically on the verge of death, and that your body had, more or less, given up on maintaining functions not necessary for life to continue.
You will still find yourself enduring snide remarks from giggling family members: “Don’t put Izzy down to sleep next to Dad. He might get poop on her!”
If you’re thinking that all of this has little to do with our work among unreached people groups, or our perspective on missions, then I’m inclined to agree with you.
Though, it’s worth noting that it’s experiences like this one that cause me to stare blankly at well-meaning church folk in the States when they tell me, “Living in Papua New Guinea sounds like a real adventure!”
If this is adventure, then let me just say: Adventure stinks.
*Not that its “former glory” was anything to brag about to begin with.